Name: Lepoglava Memorial Graveyard (Spomen groblje Lepoglava)
Location: Lepoglava, Croatia
Year completed: 1981
Designer: Stevan Luketić [profile page]
Coordinates: N46°13'00.6", E16°01'46.0"
Dimensions: ~5m tall sculpture
Materials used: Aluminum
Condition: Poor, neglected
The Lepoglava Memorial Cemetery is a site in which commemorates the victims who died at the town's prison camp, as well as the many thousands of people who were executed at this site of the memorial during WWII.
World War II
A detention center for political prisoners was built in the town of Lepoglava in 1854 when the town was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Photo 1). It was largely used during that time for detaining communist rebels and Croatian national extremists. Even after the fall of Austro-Hungary at the end of WWI and the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918, it continued to be used in very much the same way. In fact, Josip Tito, who would later go on to become President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after WWII, was interred here during the 1930s after being accused by the Kingdom of communist agitation.
Photo 1: Lepoglava Prison, 1880
Photo 2: Burials occurring at Lepoglava Prison, 1943
However, as Axis powers invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the region of Lepoglava suddenly became part of the newly created Axis puppet-state known as the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). At this point the NDH's ultra-nationalist militia known as the Ustaše, who acted as the state's de facto military, began operating the Lepoglava Prison as internment facility for anti-fascist rebels and communist dissidents. However, on July 10th, 1943, a group of anti-Axis communist rebels (known as "Partisans") from the 12th Slavonian and Kalnikov units waged an attack on the Lepoglava prison. During this attack, the Partisans freed over 800 prisoners, roughly 100 of which immediately joined the communist resistance. In addition, 26 Partisans were killed during the prison attack and were subsequently buried in local cemeteries. Yet, after this prison break, the Ustaše continued to operate the facility as normal.
Then in December of 1943, the Ustaše began to convert the prison to operate as a death camp (Photo 2), with the name of the facility being newly designated as the "Lepoglava Workers' Camp for Men, Women and Children" (Radni logora Lepoglava za muškarce, žene i djecu). While exact counts of those who died at the Lepoglava Prison Camp are not known with precise accuracy, reports indicate that the camp was directly involved in the deaths of multiple thousands of people, with some sources citing figures of up to 5,000. One of the most notorious instances of reported mass execution at Lepoglava occurred on April 30th, 1945. In the lead up to this date, the war was approaching its end and the Ustaše commander in charge of the Lepoglava Prison, Maks Luburić, feared the town might soon be liberated by Partisan fighters. As a result, Luburić ordered the execution the remained of the camps prisoners. On April 30th roughly 960 prisoners, mostly youths and elderly civilians, were reported to have been executed at a small forest clearing just north of the town, with all the remains being buried collectively in a large dirt pit. In addition, sources relate that several hundred other prisoners were sent by train to the Jasenovac death camp, at which point the vast majority were also executed. Less than a week after these executions in early May of 1945, the NDH government and Ustaše militia fled north out of the region in response to advancing Partisan armies. The camp's Ustaše commander Maks Luburić managed to flee to Spain where he lived in relative comfort until 1969, at which point he was assassinated by an Ustaše radical.
Photo 3: Maks Luburić
Photo 4: Stevan Luketić
The creation of this monument begins with a story that in the 1970s a mother petition the town of Lepoglava to search for her daughter who had been executed while imprisoned at the town's detention camp during the war. Through the course of this search, multiple mass graves were discovered but the body of the mother's young daughter was never found. At the site of the discovery of the mass graves, an initiative was put forward by Lepoglava's Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters to create a memorial park to commemorate the victims. The commission to create the monument, which was funded by the Cultural Board of the Municipality of Ivanec, selected the proposal put forward by Montenegrin artist Stevan Luketić [profile page] (Photo 4). The memorial complex was completed and officially opened to the public during a ceremony hold on July 10th, 1981, a date which commemorated exactly 38 years since the Partisan's first liberation of the prison at Lepoglava. The central element of the complex in a roughly 5m tall highly geometric and abstract sculpture made of aluminum. Around this sculpture is a circular red-brick paved courtyard which contain stone grave markers for the many victims interred here. This memorial graveyard contains the remains of not only executed civilian victims from Lepoglava prison, but also Partisan fighters killed in the 1943 attack on the prison.
Since the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the subsequent independence of Croatia in 1991, the memorial graveyard here at Lepoglava has fell into considerable decline. Many elements of the complex are damaged, deteriorating or defaced. While the central sculpture in still intact, it is highly stained by weathering and has considerable amounts of graffiti scrawled into its aluminum facade. Yet, despite the poor condition the site currently resides in, modest annual commemorative and remembrance events are still regularly hosted at the site.
The prison complex in Lepoglava which the Ustaše adminstered during WWII continued to operate during the Yugoslav era. It is most widely known for its most famous prisoner during that era, Archbishop of Zagreb Aloysius Stepinac, who was convicted of Nazi-collaboration and high treason by the Yugoslav government and served 5 years of a 16 years sentence at Lepoglava. The prison is still in use to this day and is currently referred to as the Penitentiary in Lepoglava (Kaznionica u Lepoglavi) (Photo 5).
Photo 5: The Penitentiary in Lepoglava, 2015
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are several engraved memorial elements at the cemetery here at Lepoglava which bear inscriptions. As you walk up the brick steps towards the cemetery from the parking area, you will encounter a white marble cube on your right (Slide 1). This first inscription reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
Lepoglava Memorial Cemetery
Meanwhile, this stone has two additional inscriptions on it. The next set of engraved writing is on the south-facing side of the cube that is pointing away from the road (Slide 2). This inscription reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
Designer: Stevan Luketić
Made for the working people and citizens of the city of Ivanec
July 11th, 1981
Finally, there is one last inscription on the north side of the white cube on the side which faces the lower roadway (Slide 3). This inscription reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
Project and Supervision: "Builder" Zagreb.
Organizer: The Cultural Board of Ivanec
Creators/Builders: Hidroing from Varaždin & Ivamit from Ivanec
Landscaping: Vinica from Ljevaonica
Metalworkers: Šeb Valdimir from Zagreb
Meanwhile, within the circular red-brick paved cemetery area there is another much smaller engraved stone cube which is dark grey in color (Slide 4). This stone honors the roughly 960 civilians that were executed and buried in a mass grave at this site during WWII. The inscription on this stone is located on its top with it reading, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"Cemetery for the victims of Ustaše crimes"
April 30th, 1945
The final elements to mention in regards to engravings are the dozens of white marble cubes which are engraved with the names of Lepoglava prison victims who were executed at this location (Slide 5). These cubes are arranged in a circular pattern around the cemetery and are engraved with names on all four of their outer sides. A close up of what these engravings look like can be seen in Slide 6. Most of these stones are very stained and discolored due to weathering and a lack of regular cleaning.
When evaluating this memorial sculpture here at Lepoglava for symbolic intent by its designer, Stevan Luketić, it would initially appear that Luketić's intention here was to create a purely abstract and decontextualized form. When first viewing the sculpture it is difficult to extract any specific symbolic meaning or information from its sharply geometric and crystalline-like form. This choice for such an adventurously modernist form may have been the result of the grisliness and brutality of the atrocities which were committed here -- perhaps it was felt that by having a sculpture with such a highly contemplative and interpretive shape, then maybe an atmosphere more conducive to forgiveness and reconciliation might be better achieved. However, when looking at other sculptural and memorial works by Luketić, they all seem to be of an equally abstract an modernist design (Photo 6), making the structure here at Lepoglava well within Luketić's stylistic range. However, perhaps it was exactly because of this reputation for creating highly geometric and imaginative shapes that Luketić was commissioned to create this monument in the first place.
Photo 6: A memorial sculpture by Stevan Luketić at Dotrščina, 1985
Photo 7: A memorial sculpture by Vojin Bakić at Dotrščina, 1968
Yet, when analyzing this sculpture for its symbolic qualities, it is important to remember that Luketić studied under the famous Croatian sculptor Vojin Bakić, who was also widely known for creating geometric crystalline-like sculptures of various types of highly polished and reflective metal. Bakic himself spoke often of his symbolic intention of creating polished metal memorial sculptures (which he often called "light-bearing forms") as a means to imbue the works with a sense of "purity, permanence and eternal light". Bakić especially employed such approaches when creating monuments where great tragedies occurred, as a way to symbolically bring light to a place that was formerly filled with darkness, all while his crystalline form acts as a conduit to transfer that light into every dark corner of the landscape where it resides. Examples of such works by Bakić can be found at Dotrščina Park in Zagreb (Photo 7) and his 'Circles' sculpture at Šumarice Memorial Park in Kragujevac, Serbia. As such, it seems completely reasonable that Bakić's student Luketić would also approach his creative solutions for memorial sculpture in a similar way, which can thus be symbolically read in a similar way.
Status and Condition:
The overall current state of the memorial cemetery complex at Lepoglava is fair to poor. Firstly, while the landscaping and grass around the site appeared to be well maintained and manicured, the red-brick courtyard of the complex however is highly deteriorated in numerous spots. Meanwhile, the memorial sculpture itself still remains largely intact, with no notable holes or perforations in its aluminum facade. Yet, this sculpture is significantly defaced as many people have used sharp objects to scrawl graffiti into the structure's aluminum. In addition, the aluminum memorial sculpture, as well as most of the engraved marker stones, are extremely stained and discolored from weathering and a general lack of cleaning. When approaching the cemetery complex by car, there are several useful directional signs leading visitors to the site, however, the site itself contains no educational or informational interpretive plaques or signs explaining a detailed account of what the site memorialized or commemorates. Yet, the condition of this memorial is a regular point of discussion within the community of Lepoglava, as the site is often found featured in local news and website articles.
Photo 8: A commemorative event at Lepoglava Cemetery, 2016
Upon my most recent visit to the site in the spring of 2017, I found a significant number of candles, wreaths and flowers gracing many of the stone markers around the memorial complex, leading me to believe that the local community continues to put efforts towards regularly commemorating the site. Furthermore, I found many articles detailing and documenting annual remembrance events which are held at this monument (Photo 8), which are often conducted on Croatian Anti-Fascist Struggle Day (June 22nd) as well as around April 30th to commemorate the 1945 mass executions and around July 10th to commemorate the 1943 prison break. While much work has been done already to restore and rehabilitate the site, the local municipality admits that much more still needs to be done to bring all elements of the memorial to a fully renovated state.
Finding the memorial cemetery complex at Lepoglava is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, as you enter the town of Lepoglava via Highway 35 (either from the direction of Varazdin or the A2 Motorway), you will turn north onto Trakoscanska Ulica just on the west side of town. As soon as you turn onto this road you will cross over a set of train tracks, then you will take you next immediate right onto Ulica Ivana Mazuranica. After about 500m turn left onto a road heading uphill called Ulica Eugena Kvaternika. At this turn you will also see a sign for the Spomen Groblje. After roughly 1km you will see a red-brick walled parking area on the left. Park here and follow the red-brick stairs up to the cemetery complex. the exact coordinates for parking are N46°12'58.8", E16°01'49.0".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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